You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Links for Oct 29, 2008

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on October 29, 2008

* Lisa Kansas identifies a guy who gets the basic rules of interacting with women. What are the basics? Talk to her like a real person, avoid staring at her boobs. That’s a whole post? Lisa is this impressed that a guy knows not to stare and grab?

* Editor & Publisher has a nice Q&A with some former White House photographers on the role of the president’s personal shutterbug. I like the notion that the photographer’s role is to record history, not provide material for the press office. The photo of Reagan throwing a paper airplane is a good example – it’s a wonderful portrait of a man with the world on his shoulders, who still finds a moment in his day to have some fun. But oh, imagine the attack ads if it were released before his last reelection campaign!

* Via Instapundit, coffee (well, specifically caffeine) can apparently fix, after the fact, the tendency for your brain to make shit up when you’re excessively tired. I wonder if this has something to do with the folk wisdom that coffee cures drunkenness. Obviously it won’t drive the alcohol out of your blood, but maybe it prevents some of the cognitive impairment.

* And coffee also helps make that special person sitting across from you feel warm and fuzzy inside. So remember – when you wake up with a hangover, simply drink coffee to ensure you correctly remember the name of whoever is on the other side of your bed. Awkward moment avoided!

* Via AutoBlogGreen, AutoExpress conducts some tests using Ecolog to test various accepted ideas about gas mileage. Some of the results seem pretty obvious – using the air conditioner or putting a lot of weight in the back seat costs quite a bit more gas – but others are surprising. The drag penalty of driving with the windows down is negligible, and modern tire sidewalls are stiff enough that letting the pressure get low won’t make much difference either. I’m mainly interested in getting Ecolog and using it myself…

* Of course maybe gas mileage doesn’t matter if gas prices keep dropping like a rock.


Dean Kamen Has Another Idea That’s Not As Good As He Thinks It Is

Posted in Engineering by Stacy McMahon on October 29, 2008

Remember when the Segway was “IT”, the miracle something-or-other that Jeff Bezos embarassingly predicted was going to change human society forever? This time IT’s a hybrid car powered by a Stirling engine.

The internal combustion engine, as we’ve known it for over a century, is what’s known as an open cycle device. That is, the so-called working fluid flows into and out of the engine and is constantly circulated. A closed cycle engine keeps the same working fluid contained within the device and heat is generated externally rather than from combustion inside the cylinder. The best known example of the latter is the stirling cycle engine.

Well actually the best-known closed-cycle reciprocating engine would be the triple-expansion steam engine that powered most of the world’s powerplants and steam ships until the late 1940s. But anyway…

The theoretical thermodynamic efficiency of the stirling cycle is 100 percent although creating a 100 percent efficient mechanism has proved elusive.

Of course being 100% efficient would make it a perpetual motion machine, but don’t worry, there’s no doubt the inventor of the Segway can repeal the laws of physics.

What makes the Stirling engine cool is that it can work ‘backwards’ i.e. you can make it run by feeding it a cold material just as well as a hot one. Perfect for geothermal power, or vehicles that travel into hostile environments where the ability to use whatever resources are available is more important than ultimate horsepower. Good for a hybrid car? Maybe, but as a general rule external combustion isn’t as efficient as internal combustion – that’s why steam disappeared off the scene rather quickly between 1925 and 1945.

Links for 10/24/2008

Posted in Four Wheels, Politics by Stacy McMahon on October 24, 2008

A lot of political stuff this time:

* Via Ann Althouse, Radley Balko hopes the GOP a) loses the election, b) cleans house and rebuilds around small-government conservatism, and c) therefore becomes a force to overcome leftism in future. I agree that the Republican Party in its current form is useless to libertarian or classical liberal voters, but I’m not optimistic on points b or c. As Glenn Reynolds said the other day, people hoped for that in 2004, too.

* Via Instapundit, some asshat mugger in Pittsburgh decided to get his rage on when he discovered his victim was a McCain supporter. No, this isn’t Obama’s fault. Yes, it hasn’t shown up on AP or Reuters yet.

* John Murtha suddenly has to fight for his seat in Congress. I mean just because you call your constituents a bunch of racist rednecks – don’t “you people” have a sense of humor?

* Military absentee ballots being tossed out right here in Fairfax County, but it’s not a C-O-N-spiracy, just plain-jane government stupidity. Excellent ad-matching – the story came with an ad for an online degree in military history…

* Car Lust is covering one of my high school favorites: the mid-80s VW Scirocco 16v. If only the new Scirocco were that pretty…

* Editor & Publisher asks “Will the skills of ‘real’ reporting still have a place? Or is aggregating everything?”. Logic error: if nobody is reporting, what is everyone aggregating? (submit ‘big steaming pile’ jokes in the comments…)

* And a great explanation of why you should be careful what you say in work emails (or IMs for that matter) – it can come back to bite you in court. Based on my own court appearance, you can safely assume that things can and will be taken out of context to put you on the defensive. Read the article, it says it a lot better than I can.

How Triumph Makes the Rocket III

Posted in The Intrawebs, Two Wheels by Stacy McMahon on October 23, 2008

via‘s new blog, The Sidecar, here’s a funny “documentary” of how the largest-displacement production bike comes to life. I especially like the handling system!

Links for 10/22/2008

Posted in Politics, The Intrawebs by Stacy McMahon on October 22, 2008

*A thread on the Volokh Conspiracy RE the Canadian Human Rights Commission trials of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant for offensive speech. If you haven’t heard of this, the CHRCs are basically administrative courts that hear discrimination complaints. The twist is that “discrimination” also includes complaints based on person A being horribly offended by what person B said, indirectly, about a group of people to which A doesn’t belong. And the punishments can and do include being banned from publishing certain opinions in Canada. Way to go on that whole free speech thing, eh?

* Funny Toyota Yaris commercial. Would be funnier had they actually fired it with the catapult, but this’ll do. Nice homage to their classic ad campaigns at the end, too.

* Car Lust discusses the pros and cons of owning an old car. I like tinkering and can do a reasonable job of fabricating small parts, but I think the single thing that would go farthest for me in reducing the pain of old car ownership is a great online forum. Luckily there are more and more of these now.

* A Slashdot thread on saving wet electronics. The advice on using pure alcohol (not diluted rubbing alcohol) is good, and I can personally vouch that thoroughly drying a device out can bring it back from the dead – as long as it wasn’t running when it got wet. If it was, hey might as well try anyway…

* And while we’re on Slashdot, the latest update from the Well, duh! department: “Red Hat CEO Says Economic Crisis Favors Open Source” Because it’s, you know, free.

* Damn, there goes the ski season.

* Fark: Dead goldfish in Chicago (of course) gets a voter registration form in the mail!

Wait, What?

Posted in The Intrawebs by Stacy McMahon on October 21, 2008

So I start out to entertain myself for a few minutes by googling “fighter hammerhead“. I’m hoping for some dogfight stories involving the ‘hammerhead stall’, where you climb straight up, then fall backwards and spin around to drop straight down on your opponent (it’s dramatic in CGI reenactment…)

But I forgot that the one-season-wonder sci fi show Space: Above and Beyond had a space fighter called the Hammerhead. Clicking over for a bit of bad-tv nostalgia, what to my wondering eyes should appear but two different sites where someone who takes this stuff way too seriously has tried to weave the SAAB universe into other popular TV franchises.

First, the obligatory Star Trek mashup wherein the SA-43 gains warp drive and a backstory involving anti-Starfleet rebels!

And then this other site that drops the Hammerhead into a lineage of classic Hollywood hardware ranging from the Mk 9 Hawk of Space:1999 (remember that?) to the slick, gyroscopic “bubble fighter” from the 1998 remake of Lost in Space.

Something tells me there’s a world of awful fan fiction out there where Lee Ermey whips the crew of the USS Enterprise into shape to fight Klingons and rescue the first human colonists on some planet distant enough that settlers have to leave everything behind to make the trip, yet reachable in days by advanced military spaceships whenever the plot requires…

Movie Review: Doomsday

Posted in Entertainment by Stacy McMahon on October 19, 2008

So my father-in-law and I are flipping channels yesterday afternoon, and we spot something neither of us have heard of before: Doomsday. The guide listing said the magic words – extreme violence and nudity – so we decided to check it out, in spite of the 1-1/2 star rating.

After the first 45 minutes, we were scratching our heads. This movie is good!!! Sure, the super-contagious death virus sounds familiar, but it’s no small achievement to take the done-to-death ominous voiceover opening and get it onto the screen with so little cheese. And we can’t complain about Rhona Mitra in a tank top, with guns and an awesome removable/remote-control eyeball (another detail that could easily have come off seriously dumb, but didn’t)

So what about that 1-1/2 stars? Well, we both noticed it was reminding us of various other movies. A lot. First it was, jokingly, wow it’s just like 28 Days Later – is this going to be another Alien v. Hunter? Then ‘hey, this is like Escape From New York‘. Oh, now we’re in Bartertown – mutant henchmen, fire show and all. It’s at least worthwhile as a popcorn movie, and because of that I won’t spoil it for you – but let’s just say that even the awful Timeline shows up as an …inspiration later on. And I’m not the only one who noticed all the ‘homages’.

Summary: like Scary Movie, it ‘parodies’ a dozen or more examples of the sci-fi action/zombie genres, but it’s not a comedy.

Drinking Game: Pick out scenes recognizably ripped off from another movie (for example, the totally random train chase as in Resident Evil)

Links for October 18, 2008

Posted in Politics by Stacy McMahon on October 18, 2008

So I decided I like the “links” format, as it’s a lot like a happy hour conversation. So therewith…

* Obama campaign’s attorney asks the US Attorney General to investigate leaks to the media about the investigation of ACORN for vote fraud. Wouldn’t you think a supposedly liberal candidate might want to avoid giving the impression that he’ll use the law to get back at people for embarrassing him? As for the vote fraud, I could buy ACORN’s explanation that they can only do their job by employing minimum-wage workers who are prone to register ‘abe lincoln’ to fill out their quotas – if there weren’t thousands upon thousands of these fake registrations, mostly of one party, and mostly in swing states.

* No link for this one, but it came up in conversation again tonight: there needs to be a cable channel that’s all trampoline accidents, all the time. Like this…

* Efforts to come up with a metric for data center energy efficiency. Maybe they could start by comparing the investment in instrumentation for data networks (billions nationally) with the investment in instrumentation to measure energy use (zero, unless you count the meter outside)

* via Instapundit, a theory on the purpose behind incompetent account service – to frustrate you so much that you’ll give up trying to fix the incorrect charges. Remembering my experience with Cavtel, I think he’s right.

* A statistical summary of custody outcomes in Maryland divorce cases. There’s clear bias in favor of mothers, and less shared custody than I’d prefer to see. Interesting, and it seems like this kind of data should be straightforward to compile on a much broader basis. But it hasn’t been. Maybe it’s not easily available to the public?

* A comparison of free online money-management software. I’m not sure how I feel about the security aspect, but then again I do my taxes online as often as not.

* Some thoughts on the process of writing academic papers. “Writing backwards” (starting with your thesis and conclusion, and filling in with data as you go) seems, ah, dangerous to me. Then again most people probably wouldn’t find my sometime method of printing the entire draft and laying it out in page order across multiple conference tables very efficient. I think I may try out this Ecco Pro outline software, though.

Links for Oct 17, 2008

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels, Politics, The Intrawebs, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on October 17, 2008

I’ve been too busy to post this week, but here are some of the things I’m looking at:

* Stephen Bainbridge is hinting darkly that we’ll need to keep a close eye on our free speech rights under an Obama administration. The power of blogs: the very first commenter takes him to task for exaggerating the difference between Democrat and Republican smear tactics – and isn’t deleted or banned.

* The ZAP Xebra electric city car (via Instapundit) – I like the discussion of the actual driving regimes and how the electric car meets most of an average person’s mission requirements in spite of its slack 45mph top speed. I did a similar analysis in order to determine that a 200-250cc scooter would meet all my commuting requirements, at twice the mpg of my car. It’s been one of the best large purchases I ever made. It pays to step back and take an open-minded look at how you really do things.

* Jeff Lipshaw at The Conglomerate is praising GM’s board of directors for doing its job and panning the ridiculous idea of merging the General with Chrysler. Yes, upper management really suggested that. Jeff also wonders what kind of government remedy is really appropriate for problems caused by executive stupidity: “But what can we do about “mere” incompetence that imposes severe social costs? As I’ve been telling my corporate law class these last few weeks, current doctrine provides very weak to nonexistent remedies for negligence, no matter how widely its effects are felt.” Well, for starters we could try setting and sticking to a public policy of not socializing the consequences of bad business decisions.

* AutoBlogGreen has video of Audi of America Executive VP Johan Van de Nysschen discussing the “modern diesel engines” Audi is about to introduce in its US models. Vicky, Sean, Larry and I rented a diesel minivan for our trip to France in 2004, and I’d have easily believed it was a gas engine. Smooth, quiet, powerful and no starting problems at all. Roughly, the latest Euro diesel vehicles are getting 40-50mpg with low-sulpher diesel fuel, which is around 25 cents more per gallon than 93-octane gas in the US. That’s a decent business case for a diesel.

* And to go along with that, ABG also has a list of ten diesel vehicles coming stateside in the next couple years. If you can afford them…

* Fairfax County is expecting a revenue shortfall and is planning to make the hard decisions to deal with it. Local governments can’t deficit-spend, which may be something to keep in mind when thinking about what kind of elected office qualifies a person for the White House.

* Also via Instapundit, one-pot meals for around $10. We’re trying to do more of our own cooking, so I like the one-pot bit.

* Howard Wolfson has a ‘premortem’ of the McCain campaign up at The New Republic. What is he missing? The media outright campaigning for Obama, which has to have been worth several percentage points (though probably not the whole election)

* Planetizen is admiring Falls Church’s new urbanist infill development. I drove over to Coleman Powersports Monday and the new apartment blocks going up across the street (next to Elevation Burger) seem to be doing pretty well. The whole Rt 7 corridor has changed a lot in the last few years.

Meet The Fockers Beckers!

Posted in Silly/Funny, The Intrawebs by Stacy McMahon on October 12, 2008

Ok, this is pretty funny. It’s a short film by Audi’s marketing department showing you what kind of people drive the competition…